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Spanking or Discipline?

To spank or not to spank...what a loaded question!!!

As a family educator and parent, I often have seen clients who have spanked their children and swear that the "discipline" changed the behavior.  Yet, I always query the parent as to how the behavior changed - did the behavior become extinguished or did your child simply find a different way to do the same thing?  Is not the objective of discipline to change an unacceptable behavior in our children?  What is an unacceptable behavior?  When is spanking acceptable?  Is there not another way?  Or as parents are we taking our own frustrations out on our children?  Does spanking and/or violence promote manipulative behavior in children?

Children, like adults love their comfort zones.  They know that if they do X well Y will happen.  Children, like adults, exercise choice on a situational basis daily.  Yet, children do not have the emotional intelligence due to lack of learned experience to always get it right the first or second time.  They learn their behavioral cues from their parents and the adults around them.  Adults on the other hand often have the emotional intelligence and intellectual fortitude to teach their children how to get it right without ever raising their hand to a child.  These parents are in essence their child's educators who teach their children that there are consequences that do not involve physical violence as a solution to each misbehavior.  In the extreme version of parenting, I have seen doors taken off a child's room (loss of privacy) to losing their Nintendo WII until the behavior is extinguished.  It takes longer to teach than to spank; yet, the lessons are invaluable when your child becomes an adult.

As parents and educators, we are responsible to teach our children acceptable behavior within the realm of living, growing, nuturing, maturing, and caring.  Is it not a good idea to constantly consider that as children life experience is lacking?  How do you teach those life experiences without becoming a tyrant?  Is spanking something that needs to be done in order to teach that lesson? 

Many parents who have graced my life as a parent educator have said "I did not want to spank...what else can I do?"  Parents, just like their children, must be willing to change their behavior and perspective in order to effectuate change within the people around them.  Change comes from within and influences the people around us.  Parents are not just people who run a household, shuffle children from event to event, and manage multiple relationships at the same time.  I often describe parents are leaders, managers, supervisors who basically run a small company and their children are akin to the employees who get all the fringe benefits of the leadership and the fiscal solvency that goes along with the proper running of the home.  How many parents as employees would hit a subordinate in order to obtain compliance in a task?  What consequences would occur to another adult or employee if the task is not done correctly?  Can you see yourself telling a subordinate to "bend over...let me spank you?" or just simply smack the person for being rude, disrespectful, or belligerant?  What would happen to you as an employee?  Would you have a job after "punishing" the subordinate?  Probably not; actually I can almost guarantee you would be unemployed and explaining to your family that you "just wanted to teach him/her a lesson" as you attempt to collect your unemployment check.

So what is the difference between an adult hitting another adult and an adult hitting their child?  Many parents say to me "I only hit my child on the bottom with my hurts me also (my palm)"; others say "I only took a belt to my child once"; while others define a zone on the body that is acceptable to hit.  Where on the body is it acceptable to hit another human being?  Who owns the body that you are hitting?  I have heard some parents say "I brought you into this world...I can take you out"(a women speaking about her 8 year old son); in essence threatening the life of the child when the child protests the punishment as being too harsh.  I have heard adult men say "I own my wife/girlfriend in mind, body, and spirit"; they use this justification to hit women.  What is the difference?  What are we teaching the future men and women in our society to do?  With society being more aware of the various types of abuse; are we being effective as parents in being our children's primary educators - they do learn from our example.  So...what are we teaching our children?

Have we become a society that is in too much of a hurry to provide effective discipline?  Effective discipline does not mean that we are perfect at parenting.  Rather I always tell clients that we spend a lifetime learning and growing so that we can be effective parents when our children have children.  The exception to this is when parents spend time learning and growing as parents; taking the time to be better parents then they were a week ago. 

Imagine this, a parent wants to teach their child a "lesson" about misbehaving.  The child's life experience is that s/he will get spanking or beat; they know what is coming and jumps out the window as the sun is setting.  Mom sees the child has left the home and goes outside with a flyswatter to 'teach' him not to leave the house without permission and oh by the way don't forget the other transgression.  The child runs around the backyard as Mom and Dad are chasing him.  The child bobs and weaves as Mom and Dad huff and puff.  Mom finally grabs the child by the shirt and begins to teach him a lesson after a five minute fiasco.  She proceeds to hit him with the flyswatter in the "zone".  Dad takes over and 'spanks' him in the 'zone'.  The child is then grounded for a week.  Fiction?  No, this actually happened to a child I saw in the clinic as a therapist.  Extreme?  Maybe not since an adult who is angry is a dangerous weapon all unto themselves. 

So the question to ponder is what is the value of spanking versus teaching your children the road map to life?  Can you do both?  Is spanking really effective?  In my experience as a therapist and a parent, I have found that spanking does not work as well as loss of privileges.  I have had children say to me "I wish my parents would spank me...then I can go outside and continue to play...or go to the party" - in otherwords, by spanking you are giving the child the opportunity to continue with the behavior that caused the problem in the first place without opportunity to grow emotionally and intellectually.  Their life experience is 'spanking=quick release'.  I have found that parents who spank may not have the tools in their tool chest to effectively manage parenting a child(ren).  Spanking worked for their parents (or did it?) so these parents spank also.  Part of the parenting equation is learning new skills that are effective and do not promote negative behavioral interactions between children.  By teaching our children appropriate boundaries we are teaching them the life lessons they need to have in their own tool chest to be productive and prosperous adults.  What lessons are you teaching your child today?


Well written! Though I have never had to spank my son I do believe that this type of discipline can be used in a proper way. I have seen the spanking of children due to extreme frustration and as you so well put "parents who spank may not have the effectively manage parenting..." I have also seen parents that have used spanking in a controlled and unemotional way. I do believe there is a way to balance the two if that is the route your family has chosen. Though I side in the middle of this debate I do believe the biggest issue is not which we think is better for your family but how do we help families to have all the necessary tools so that the child is really trained for adulthood. Why doesn't our society place more importance on the raising of our children? In other countries, children are considered a true blessing and it is shown through year long maternity leaves, daycares that are actual learning centers and not holding places, cultures that are unified in their raising of children - I could go on with the differences. Often times our children are overlooked until they become a buying consumer or a contributing member of society but our society is not concerned with how they get to that point. How many other countries had to be told they could not market cigarettes to children? Until we are able to learn to rectify that, the spank or not to spank debate will always be with us because the real issue - teaching all parents as one and valuing our children as people - has not been addressed.
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